God, Marcion, Dawkins

by , under thinking

Picking up a discussion that started on Twitter but got a bit out of hand. Reversed  the order, expanded twitterisms, joined continuing tweets, untangled crossing threads, otherwise unedited. I’ve even left the digressions in in case they become relevant later. Don’t hesitate to speak up, even if you weren’t among the original participants!

sciamannata Marcionism (very successful early Christian movement, aka heretics) seems to share an opinion of the OT god with me and Dawkins. 🙂

irinarempt ooh, tell me more! I also have an opinion of the OT god, and I don’t know if I would be comfortable sharing it with Dawkins. – my opinion of the OT god is roughly that he’s a merciless bastard. (Well, can’t be bastard, doesn’t have father, but YKWIM)

zeborah Though the OT god could often still be argued with, so not completely merciless.

irinarempt True. But I have a feeling that saying “God is merciful” so often and so loudly is done for a purpose.

sciamannata Well, of course Dawkins (like me) doesn’t think the OT god exists, so there is that… Marcion probably thought he did. “Merciless bastard” seems like a good summary, yes (for me, Dawkins and Marcion). Capricious, too. Dawkins has a good screed about it (the only “rude” bit of The God Delusion in fact). I’ll see if I find it online. Here it is: the 1st quote on this page is the Dawkins screed I was talking about  http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3044365 “Marcion held maltheistic views of the God of the Hebrew Bible, that he was inconsistent, jealous, wrathful and genocidal and that the material world he created was defective; the God who made such a world is a bungling or malicious demiurge.” In explaining Marcion the podcast focused mostly on the “just, meaning merciless” aspect (to differentiate from Gnostics).

irinarempt “just, meaning merciless” is exactly what I meant. – aargh, shouldn’t have read the other quotes, they make me fume.

sciamannata Oh dear, sorry about that. I rather liked the book actually, but he can be a bit sniffy… – Here’s a summary, in the 1st quote within the “Teachings” section: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism#Teachings

irinarempt The brain, she spins. No time or attention for heresies, however intriguing.

sciamannata Heh. Some of them are pretty headspinning, especially the Gnostics… I’m fascinated more by the history than the theology tho.

irinarempt I suspect it’s mostly the view of the OT writers that puts down God as merciless; living in actual fear of God.

green_knight I found a lot of the God delusion rude 🙁

sciamannata Ah well. I found it rather genteel on the whole, in a very Oxford-don fashion. Often supercilious and sometimes snotty though. I may just have a different standard for “rude”, or that I think religion should be handled like any other ideology, no better.

green_knight Agree with ideology, but he decides that all religions are the same and attacks that strawman. You can deny existence of deities without denying that believers might get something positive out of framing world like this. As long as religion stays a private truth – right for me – and doesn’t hurt others – you mustn’t do x because I don’t like x – I’m fine with it. We all construct reality differently. Deities aren’t the only harmful or strongly-held beliefs; think economic convictions.

sciamannata I got a different impression. I think he did make those distinctions and then explicitly focused on the more obnoxious versions, and I didn’t see a lot of strawmen. He does recognize that some believers get something positive out of it,  but it’s still based on a delusion and therefore ultimately wrong, so they’d be better off believing something true instead (here I agree with him I’m afraid). He does say that if all believers were nice & liberal & private about it he wouldn’t really have a problem with them, but he does because they enable nastier believers. Anyway – not trying to say you should like the book, if you didn’t you didn’t! Just explaining how I saw it. Of course religions aren’t the only harmful beliefs! I doubt anybody believes that (tho you never know, there’s all kinds…)

irinarempt but how can we know what is true? I prefer believing something I can believe in, even though it’s not The Truth, to taking something else on authority that I can’t relate to.

sciamannata Yes, I suppose that is where the core disagreement lies: what constitutes authority, what is believable.

sciamannata
Marcianism (v successful early Christian movement, aka heretics) seems to
share an opinion of the OT god with me and Dawkins. :)irinarempt
ooh, tell me more! I also have an opinion of the OT god, and I
don’t know if I would be comfortable sharing it with Dawkins.- my opinion of the OT god is roughly that he’s a merciless
bastard. (Well, can’t be bastard, doesn’t have father, but YKWIM)

zeborah
Though the OT god could often still be argued with, so
not *completely* merciless.

irinarempt
True. But I have a feeling that saying “God is merciful” so often
and so loudly is done for a purpose.

sciamannata
Well, of course Dawkins (like me) doesn’t think the OT god
exists, so there is that… Marcian probably thought he did.

sciamannata
“Merciless bastard” seems like a good summary, yes (for me,
Dawkins and Marcian). Capricious, too. Dawkins has a good screed about it
(the only “rude” bit of The
God Delusion in fact). I’ll see if I find it online.
– Here it is: the 1st quote on this page is the Dawkins screed I
was talking about: http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3044365
– Ah, oops. It seems that the Marcian I was talking about is
really called Marcion. I blame the Canadian lecturer 🙂
– “Marcion held maltheistic views of the God of the Hebrew Bible,
that he was inconsistent, jealous, wrathful and genocidal
and that the material world he created was defective; the God
who made such a world is a bungling or malicious demiurge.”
– In explaining Marcion the podcast focused mostly on the “just,
meaning merciless” aspect (to differentiate from Gnostics).

irinarempt
ooh, “just, meaning merciless” is exactly what I meant.
– aargh, shouldn’t have read the other quotes, they make me fume.

sciamannata
Oh dear, sorry about that. I rather liked the book actually, but
he *can* be a bit sniffy…

– Here’s a summary, in the 1st quote within the “Teachings”
section: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism#Teachings

irinarempt
The brain, she spins. No time or attention for heresies,
however intriguing.

sciamannata
Heh. Some of them are pretty headspinning, especially the
Gnostics… I’m fascinated more by the history than the theology tho.

irinarempt
I suspect it’s mostly the view of the OT writers that puts
down God as merciless; living in actual *fear* of God.

green_knight
I found a lot of the God delusion rude 🙁

sciamannata
Ah well. I found it rather genteel on the whole, in a very
Oxford-don fashion. Often supercilious and sometimes snotty though.
I may just have a different standard for “rude”, or that I
think religion shd be handled like any other ideology, no better.

green_knight
Agree with ideology, but he decides that all religions are the
same & attacks that strawman. You can deny existence of   deities without
denying that believers might get something
positive out of framing world like this. As long as religion
stays a private truth – right for me -& doesn’t hurt others –
you mustn’t do x because I don’t like x – I’m fine with it. We all construct
reality differently. Deities aren’t the only
harmful or strongly-held beliefs; think economic convictions

sciamannata
I got a different impression. I think he did make those
distinctions and then explicitly focused on the more obnoxious versions, and
I didn’t see a lot of strawmen. He does
recognize that some believers get something positive out of it,  but it’s
still based on a delusion and therefore ultimately
wrong, so they’d be better off believing something true instead (here I
agree with him I’m afraid). He does say that
if all believers were nice & liberal & private about it he wouldn’t
really
have a problem with them, but he does b/c they
*enable* nastier believers. Anyway – not trying to say
you should like the book, if you didn’t you didn’t! Just
explaining how *I* saw it. f course religions aren’t the only harmful
beliefs! I doubt
anybody believes that (tho you never know, there’s all kinds…)

irinarempt
but how can we know what is true? I prefer believing something
I can believe in, even though it’s not The Truth, to taking something else
on authority that I can’t relate to.

sciamannata
Yes, I suppose that is where the core disagreement
lies: what constitutes authority, what is believable.

  1. David J. Peterson

    As long as religion stays a private truth – right for me – and doesn’t hurt others – you mustn’t do x because I don’t like x – I’m fine with it.

    This is well said, and I’m in complete agreement. The very first litmus test, though, is children. Children have a hard enough time figuring out what’s what in the world when they’re born. To have their parents—the ones on whom they depend not merely for food and shelter, but for love and comfort—force their personal fantasies on them at a time when their minds are ill-equipped to deal with such information is destructive. (And there can be no question about forcing: A parent can say to a young child that they may believe what they want to believe, but children know which side their bread is buttered on.)

    • Irina

      We never said to our children that they might believe what they wanted to believe; neither did we hide what we believed. “Force their personal fantasies on them” seems an overly harsh term for bringing up children in their family’s culture. It’s impossible to bring up a child completely blank and value-neutral– it’s like not giving them anything to eat until they know how to cook. I believe in teaching something, always with the understanding that this is an example, a pattern, and that other patterns could work just as well. For me faith is like CSS: a (not “the”) structure to make sense of the world, to make things that are valid in themselves fall into place.

      • David J. Peterson

        It’s impossible to bring up a child completely blank and value-neutral– it’s like not giving them anything to eat until they know how to cook.

        Values are one thing; mythology (i.e. “This person existed at this time and did this, etc.”) is quite another. Values can be presented to a child free from a framework that requires one to believe that something which isn’t true is true. (They would have to be, otherwise humans wouldn’t still be around.) That’s the problem I have.

        In particular, my problem with Christianity was (and still is) that if one doesn’t believe that Jesus is the son of a God, one will go to Hell—and Hell is worse than the worst thing imaginable. There’s no skirting that issue. An adult can deal with that information; a child can’t.

        • Irina

          Er, that’s one very specific brand of Christianity; it’s more diverse than non-Christians think. I’m always torn between amusement and exasperation when atheists and other non-Christians know so very well what I ought to believe, and when it turns out that I don’t believe that to the letter I am the one who is wrong! (disclaimer: I don’t actually think you-David are guilty of that, but what you said did trigger the reaction)

          That said, we do have a concept of Hell, namely the state of being apart from God. We never say that if someone doesn’t believe a particular story exactly to the letter, it will cause that state (for one thing it’s More Complicated Than That; for another, Orthodoxy isn’t as fundamentalist as the term seems to imply).

          • David J. Peterson

            (These little columns get very thin!)

            In this case, I was speaking from experience. As an American, I was raised “Christian”. Most folks here don’t give much thought to the theology: They just do it. And though my parents love me and are very nice, I know they believe, in their heart of hearts, that if I don’t jump the fence before I die, I will go to Hell. I feel sorry for them; it must be an awful feeling. I’m still holding out hope that they’ll be able to kick all this stuff before it’s too late.

          • sciamannata

            It was my understanding (as a Catholic, but also from what I heard from other flavours of Christians) that the state of being eternally apart from God was in itself worse than the worst thing imaginable. Admittedly not as immediately traumatic for a child as some of the graphic fire-and-brimstone descriptions, but still presented as a bad bad thing you want to avoid at all costs.

            The point on Christian diversity is fair, and yes conflation happens — inevitably I think. But it is also possible to find one belief/practice quite horrifying and criticise that precisely because it is so bad, without assuming that all Christians believe that same thing; and at the same time find some other Christans’ belief/practice rather objectionable, even if less bad than the first; and so on.

            Telling people what they “ought” to believe is clearly wrong-headed. But I think being puzzled is fair. I’d be very puzzled by a church-going self-styled Christian telling me that they don’t think Jesus is the saviour, or that they don’t believe in God, or that they believe they’ll be saved by worshipping a small dried potato. (My reaction wouldn’t be to question their belief though, it would be to question the appropriateness of the label they’ve chosen. And to ask for more detail, probably.)

          • Irina

            Well, I do think Jesus is the saviour. I just don’t think that anyone who doesn’t think that will automatically go to Hell.

      • green_knight

        I don’t think there’s a way around telling children what you believe – whether in deities or the non-existence of deities. You’ll tell them something. And most children can learn early on that not everybody believes the same things, and that’s ok, too.

        I also wonder how parents handle believing in deities (which they do) and believing in Santa Claus (which children often are encouraged to do, but the parents don’t share that belief).

        • Irina

          We didn’t have the exact Santa Claus problem, because we celebrate St Nicholas who is a real saint in our church (i.e. we believe in him, though not exactly as he appears as a folk character). And our services have a strong ‘theatrical’ component anyway, you put on the right clothes with the right attitude and you’re no longer a private person, but . It was easy to extend that to St Nicholas: if you put on St Nicholas clothes with the right intention in the appropriate context, you are St Nicholas, even if you’re the 6th year teacher otherwise.

          (And now I’m going to bed, however tempting it is to stay up to talk!)

          • sciamannata

            Ohh, the St Nicholas thing is fascinating, both because I can relate quite well to it personally and because of the parallels with practices from other religions and (using the word loosely) shamanism. (And in fact Tibetan Buddhism, now I think about it.)

            Is this explanation the orthodoxy within the Russian Orthodox Church, or just your own or your local community’s take on it? (I ask purely out of curiosity.)

    • sciamannata

      I don’t know. To me it makes perfect sense that if a parent thinks salvation depends on right belief and action, they’ll try to make sure their child is saved too — by teaching them the right belief and action. Because I’m an atheist, I think it’s a pity that children get inducted into what I think is a delusion when they’re young and uncritical, but I also think that it is entirely consistent with the parents’ duty to give their children what is best for them according to their understanding, and therefore I wouldn’t dream to ask a parent not to pass on their religion.

      Ideally, with the religion they would also pass on a habit of critical thinking, which is a value in itself and also the means by which the children will be able to make their own choices (on religion as on anything else) once they’re more mature. But then again, this is probably incompatible with some forms of religion, and that’s just life.

      I’m not happy with this situation, but it’s the way I see it.

      (And BTW: I’m not ignoring you in my comment below when I say I’m going to kick off the thread — you posted while I was writing and I only saw your comment after posting 🙂 )

      • David J. Peterson

        I don’t know. To me it makes perfect sense that if a parent thinks salvation depends on right belief and action, they’ll try to make sure their child is saved too — by teaching them the right belief and action.

        Right. That’s why I think something should be done to prevent this. I’ve thought for quite awhile that religion should be for those aged 16 or older (at least). To me, it’s simple. You don’t show a six year old a horror movie filled with gore. That doesn’t mean that they’ll never in their life be able to see it—they may even come to enjoy horror films—but at a young age, children simply aren’t equipped to handle this type of information appropriately.

        • Irina

          I can’t speak for all the children in all churches in the world, but it would deprive the children of our parish (including mine, now aged 15 and 17) of a big chunk of their life that they love. Also, if they weren’t allowed to learn anything about religion until 16, they’d have no experience and skill to choose with. (Which you probably wouldn’t mind, of course 🙂 ) There’s a window for life skills, as there is for language, and if you miss that it stays closed.

          I’ve never been afraid that we were destroying our kids’ critical thinking by living a religious life as a family– and indeed, they’ve all grown up critical thinkers.

          (Trying very hard not to get defensive. If I do, someone please slap me!)

        • Zeborah

          While some fundamentalist Christianity is unfortunately similar to a gory horror movie, most Christianity and most religions really aren’t.

          I’d tend perhaps to compare religion more to sex – can be very very good, can be very very bad, consent is really really important 🙂 – and I firmly believe sex education should start a whole lot earlier at 16. Not just because some kids end up having sex (and/or religious experiences) before 16 but because one needs preparation through easier concepts before being able to tackle the harder concepts.

          In my ideal world, children would learn about basic anatomy by the age of six and would be exposed (at approximately the same age but with respect for their personal understandings) to the existence of people with various sexualities and gender identities and so forth. Similarly I think there’s absolutely no harm in a child being taught the basics of a religion and I think it’d be a good thing for them to be exposed to the existence of people with various other beliefs.

          • David J. Peterson

            Similarly I think there’s absolutely no harm in a child being taught the basics of a religion and I think it’d be a good thing for them to be exposed to the existence of people with various other beliefs.

            There’s a big difference in being taught about sex as an abstract then being taught about it by having sex. If we extend this analogy, then children should be taught about religion (the various ones that exist), but should not be taught religion until they’re ready.

        • sciamannata

          I can’t think of anything that could be “done to prevent this” that wouldn’t be worse than what it tries to prevent.

          What I think that could and should be done is to make sure that children, whatever their home religion or lack thereof, are exposed from a young age to the existence of other beliefs (and disbeliefs) and to people who have different worldviews. (In fact, this goes for a lot more issues than just religion – but religion is what this thread is about.)

          This is of course what happens anyway in many places, though I think even in those places it may be desirable to encourage it further.

          I’d be horrified by a government that tried to tell parents what they can or cannot teach their children when it comes to religion; but I think it would be legitimate (and desirable) for a government to make sure that children are exposed to diversity.

          This is because it is precisely those parents who are most fundamentalist and therefore (IMO) most damaging who are also most likely to do their very best to make sure that their children aren’t exposed to different opinions. From what I hear, this is not uncommon in the US – probably more than in any other historically-Christian country.

  2. sciamannata

    Ok, I’ll get the comment thread started 🙂

    About Marcion:

    In this series of podcasts about early Christianity I’m listening to, in general I’m fascinated by the history and much less interested in the theology. Marcion is a bit of an exception in that he picks up on something that I’d noticed a while ago (after I’d stopped considering myself a Christian though), namely that it is really rather hard to reconcile the god of the Old Testament with the god of the New Testament — and particularly with the “god of love” that would have been highlighted when I was a Christian. I was very interested to discover that there was indeed an early “sect” that had come to the same conclusion and ditched the OT entirely — and that it was a very large, widespread sect, enough to cause the first large-scale effort of suppression and in the process help defining what was to become the orthodoxy we know. (The suppression was quite successful, and we know what Marcion thought only because one of the Church Fathers devoted a 5-volume work to countering his arguments in detail. And was fair-minded enough that those arguments are presented in what appears to be a fair way.)

    These days, my opinion is that reconciling OT and NT takes some serious mental acrobatics. I’m sure most Christians (certainly most Catholics) don’t notice because they’re already presented with an interpretation which softens the worst corners and glosses over the worst contradictions, but I find it harder to understand how those Christians who actually read the Bible and think about it manage to reconcile the contradiction without their heads exploding.

    I was very interested when irinarempt said she also thought the OT god was a merciless bastard. But then, why worship him? And why does Jesus say that “not one jot of the law” will be revoked, and that he’s not about abolishing the Torah but about completing it?

    (BTW, I’m not trying to convert irinarempt. I don’t try to convert people in general anyway, but in her specific case I have a pretty good idea that she’s quite solid in her beliefs and it would be like trying to shift a medium-size mountain by kicking it, so no worries on this count!)

    (I’ll get back to this discussion — and to Dawkins — later, but now I need food and there are a few things that need doing around the house.)

    • Irina

      I was very interested when irinarempt said she also thought the OT god was a merciless bastard. But then, why worship him?

      Because that is not all that God is; that’s the reason (well, one of the reasons) that I’m not a Jew.

  3. Irina

    To David to break out of the little columns:

    Yes, that’s a fundamentalist Protestant attitude, and I’m neither fundamentalist nor Protestant. Nor do we hold that what we (personally, not as a church) believe is representative of all of Christianity, just as being a suicide bomber isn’t representative of all of Islam.

    [ETA: argh, that might give the wrong impression. I just meant that people outside any group tend to see the most salient feature of the most salient small sub-group and do a pars pro toto on it; like the Englishman I used to date who thought all Dutch people liked their tea with milk and without sugar because I happened to take milk and no sugar in my tea.*)]

    *) In fact, statistically, Dutch people take sugar but no milk.

    • David J. Peterson

      Of course, one is allowed to believe that all Dutch people take their tea with milk and without sugar, right? And I should be allowed to teach my children that that’s what all Dutch people are like? 😉 (Just teasing; don’t mean this seriously.)

      Also, if they weren’t allowed to learn anything about religion until 16, they’d have no experience and skill to choose with.

      Goodness, if this were true (if I understand the implication), I’d think it ought to worry those that adhered to any religion (i.e. that children are incapable of adopting a faith unless they’re instructed in it while their minds are fragile).

      Of course, it’s not true, though. There are thousands of people that grow up without a religion and convert late (and vice-versa).

      And this analogy…

      There’s a window for life skills, as there is for language, and if you miss that it stays closed.

      …I don’t think is appropriate. While linguists are moving away from the strict Critical Period theory, there is evidence (some particularly horrifying) that if children aren’t exposed to fluent language by a certain age range, they won’t ever develop fluent language abilities like other human beings. I’d say we have plenty of evidence that the same is not true of religious faiths.

  4. green_knight

    Hell, namely the state of being apart from God

    Well, if that’s all, then atheists and followers of other deities will very happily spend an eternity in hell…

    (CSS problem alert: not only does the response column get exceedingly narrow, it was so narrow that the captcha moved off the visible area, which led the blog to exclaim Sorry, that doesn\’t make sense. Please try again. and present me with a comment box in normal width at the bottom of the form)

    • Irina

      Gah, can’t fix the CSS issue unless I majorly hack the theme. And I like this theme otherwise. I didn’t expect or intend so much discussion when I chose it!

      About the other thing– I never intended to condemn atheists and followers of other deities to Hell, and I don’t really believe they end up there! I can’t speak for the whole church, it’s likely there’s an official position on it that I don’t even know, and if I knew it I probably wouldn’t subscribe to it, but for me there’s no reason for anybody to be in Hell unless they choose to be there. And I don’t mean by “choose to be there” that someone must choose to be Christian; there are many other ways. (Though I have a nagging suspicion that aggressive hostile atheism –not “I’m an atheist, so what?” but “all you believers are stupid/deluded/dangerously insane”– is very close to choosing to be in Hell.)

  5. sciamannata

    (Does the blog software limit the number of nested replies? There’s no “Reply” button for the comment where Irina says she does believe Jesus is the saviour.)

    To Irina:
    I didn’t doubt you believe Jesus is the saviour! I wasn’t talking about you, just making hypothetical (and rather extreme) examples of statements that would puzzle me when coming from Christians. (The only one that I have ever actually heard, in fact, is “don’t believe in god” — famously from an Anglican bishop, but occasionally from less-famous people. I haven’t met non-Jesus-believing or potato-worshipping Christians. Not yet, anyway 🙂

    • Irina

      I know about non-Jesus-believing Christians! Ministers, even. I don’t know what moves them.

      I’ve now disabled nesting of replies. It was set at 5 levels, which is too few for this post, but if I set it any higher (it can go up to 10) nobody will be able to use the captcha as green_knight experienced. I’m very new to this, sorry! I’ll look into themes that can take lots of discussion, but not now as it’s 4 minutes past midnight on Sunday morning.

      • sciamannata

        Nested replies: Sure! In fact the blog software already seems to force this behaviour by not showing a “Reply” button after a certain level of nesting is reached. That seems a good enough solution to me — I wasn’t asking you to change it, just wondering if you knew about it.

  6. Irina

    @sciamannata, the St Nicholas thing is what we-as-a-family make of the local (our community’s) attitude, and we and everybody around us can live with it.

  7. Irina

    Hey people, keep talking if you’re so inclined, but I’m really off to bed now. I’ve set comments to unthreaded and newest on top to avoid fatally narrow columns and unnecessary scrolling.

  8. sciamannata

    aggressive hostile atheism –not “I’m an atheist, so what?” but “all you believers are stupid/deluded/dangerously insane”

    Hmmm… Actually, I do believe that all believers are deluded (not stupid or dangerously insane though!) — but I don’t go around aggressively telling them, or in fact telling them in any way unless either (a) they attack me first, or (b) I find myself in a discussion like this, where I trust people are listening with goodwill and rather than just taking offence they’ll dispute what I say if they find it distasteful or wrong.

    How could I not think they are deluded? Given that I believe God doesn’t exist and they believe he/she/it does, it follows that I must think that they are either honestly wrong, or dishonestly lying. Unless I have good reason to think they’re lying, my default assumption is that people are honest. If they’re honestly convinced of something which is wrong, that means they are deluded.

    …is this wrong?

    The point is that I’m using “deluded” in a fairly precise sense, and maybe other people use it or hear it more like a generic pejorative, equivalent to “insane” or “stupid”. To me it’s a precise objective description, like e.g. “ignorant”: both describe specific undesirable states, but don’t imply anything about a person’s essential being, character or worth (or ability to improve). And both are often taken as generic insults, which annoys me because they are useful specific descriptions and there aren’t good alternatives to them!

    (It may be relevant to know that in Buddhism the fundamental sources of all suffering are traditionally listed as hatred, greed and delusion. I have absorbed enough of the Buddhist worldview by now that I automatically assume that everybody is deluded to a greater or lesser extent: being free from the Three Poisons is the same as being enlightened. We’re just deluded about different things, and to different degrees.)

    • Irina

      The point is that I’m using “deluded” in a fairly precise sense, and maybe other people use it or hear it more like a generic pejorative, equivalent to “insane” or “stupid”. To me it’s a precise objective description, like e.g. “ignorant”: both describe specific undesirable states, but don’t imply anything about a person’s essential being, character or worth (or ability to improve). And both are often taken as generic insults, which annoys me because they are useful specific descriptions and there aren’t good alternatives to them!

      Ah, must have been the student job in a psychiatric hospital that still makes me automatically read ‘delusion’ as a pathological state in need of treatment. I should have said “stupid, sick or dangerously insane”. ‘Stupid’, unlike ‘ignorant’, is hard to get rid of, ‘sick’ must be cured, ‘dangerously insane’ must be protected from.

      What I miss in this discussion (that’s why I’m throwing it into the ring) is that atheism is a belief, just like theism. Neither of us can be sure that we’re right. Of course I think I’m right, and you think you’re right, or we would have nothing to talk about, but it’s still all a matter of what each of us is convinced of for herself (or in David’s case, himself). I don’t necessarily think you (Anna) or David would be better off as a Christian, because it’s clearly not the right thing for you — whether that’s because of the way you’re made, or because of early bad experience, is none of my business. But I know it’s the right thing for me: being forced to live as an atheist would cause me great distress.

      When people ask me about faith or the church, I never try to convince, I only try to inform. If someone gets interested enough to learn more, I’m pleased; if they then decide it’s the right way for them as well, I’m thankful for having been able to point them in that direction.

      (For the record, I don’t think atheists are stupid or sick or dangerously insane; I don’t think they’re deluded unless only in the sense that everybody is deluded because nobody can know the truth; I don’t even think they’re ignorant. I only think they’re wrong. But on the other hand, I don’t know whether I’m right either, it’s only that the way I look at the world seems right to me.)

  9. Zeborah

    He does recognize that some believers get something positive out of it, but it’s still based on a delusion and therefore ultimately wrong, so they’d be better off believing something true instead (here I agree with him I’m afraid).

    This position fails to take into account those of us (probably a tiny minority but I know at least I exist) who have consciously weighed up the… hm, I’ll say irrationality of believing in God against the rationality of believing only in the world and decided that, regardless of its precise correspondence with atoms and quarks, I find in my religion a great many truths that are very important to me; and have decided for this reason among others that for me it’s much better for me to believe than not to believe. I’m happier when I believe than when I don’t, and more thoughtful (I mean ‘full-of-thought’ but the goal is certainly to have ‘considerate’ flow on from there).

    If it’s a delusion it’s a conscious delusion. I believe in God approximately the same way I believe in truth and justice and the American Way and love: by acting as if it’s real I create something worthwhile.

    I don’t think it’s any more valid for atheists to claim that I’d be better off as an atheist than it is for Christians to claim that others would be better off as Christians (though certainly given history/present culture the former is a lot less irritating/oppressive than the latter).

  10. Zeborah

    How could I not think they are deluded? Given that I believe God doesn’t exist and they believe he/she/it does, it follows that I must think that they are either honestly wrong, or dishonestly lying.

    Or that they have different definitions than you do.

    I don’t always believe that there’s an entity that corresponds to something in our physical or quantum reality, or even in a reality above/outside/beyond ours. In fact, when I think about it in physical terms, I mostly believe that there isn’t. But. Religion’s about more than physical manifestations. <waves hands, flails, hurries off to appointment>

  11. sciamannata

    @Zeborah:

    Hm, interesting. It is possible that I have misunderstood, but I wouldn’t call
    what you describe “believing in God” — in fact, I would call it “not
    believing in God”. We do indeed have different definitions.

    To put it in a somewhat snappy way, maybe I could say (again, if I understand
    correctly) that you don’t believe in God but believe in religion 🙂

    More seriously, what I understood is that you don’t believe God exist but you
    believe that it is good for you to act as if he did. I absolutely take your
    word for it that it makes you feel better, and from what I can see you’re what
    I would call a good person, so I have very little to object to at this level:
    it clearly does work for you.

    It does puzzle me though.

    One aspect of the puzzlement may be purely semantic: to me “believing” isn’t
    something you (generic) can choose to do or not to do — you can choose to
    try to believe/disbelieve, and you can most certainly choose to act
    as if
    you did or didn’t believe, but you can’t choose to “believe” or “not
    believe” as such. As I said, this sounds like it’s a question of definitions
    rather than substance.

    More substantially though, I truly do not understand how it works. (Note that
    “don’t understand” doesn’t in any way imply “disapprove” or “consider
    illegitimate”. Just describing a limitation of my imagination.) What is the
    need to “believe” (scare quotes because of the previous paragraph) in a
    supernatural being, rather than just believe (no scare quotes) that there is
    good in the world and that it is good to be good, and skipping the bit about
    the supernatural being? The second seems more straightforward to me, and
    likely to ultimately work better, since it doesn’t risk running into internal
    contradiction and getting all tangled up in knots, or crashing and burning
    when it really comes to the crunch. Again, things do seem to work out for you
    (Zeborah), so clearly there’s something that I’m missing.

    (As an aside, I think “acting as if” can in general be a legitimate and useful
    strategy, and it’s what I do with regard to free will. On an
    “objective”/scientific level, I think free will in an ultimate sense
    probably does not exist; at the same time, I think that as human beings it is
    useful and necessary — and probably inevitable — to “act as if” it exists.
    In a superficial conversation I might in fact say that “I believe in free
    will” — but I would probably rush to qualify it if the conversation got
    deeper. I just do not understand how this is useful when applied to a
    supernatural being instead.)

  12. sciamannata

    @Irina:

    To an extent I agree atheism is a belief — but more in the sense of “I believe this” than in the sense of “faith”. I do not “know” with absolute certainty that there is no god — but as the Gnu Atheists say, this also applies to the existence of orbiting teapots, leprechauns, and a giant invisible dragon in my garage. (I realize that this can be a rather confrontational way to put it, but bear with me, I think it is also objectively correct and a useful way to illustrate my belief.)

    In other words, looking around me, I see no evidence whatsoever for the existence of a god: the world looks exactly like it would look if there was no god. Therefore believing that a god does exist would take an act of faith on my part, while believing that no god exists pretty much follows naturally from the evidence (or takes only a tiny amount of extrapolation from that evidence). (And of course if I got different evidence I would revise my conclusion.)

    (I’m leaving aside for the moment the fact that I don’t think I could “will myself to believe” — see previous reply to Zeborah. It could be just semantics.)

    As for the question of how one is better off… Yeah, I believe a person is ultimately better off if they believe what is actually true rather than if they believe what is not true. I do not believe in forcing people to believe one way or the other (whether it’s about religion or anything else) — and in fact I don’t think it’s possible to force a person to believe something, short of brainwashing (in a technical sense). And I am aware that there is no way I can be 100% sure that what I believe is in fact true — but because I keep looking, learning and correcting, I’m pretty confident that I’m not far from the right track.

    Clearly other people with completely different worldviews are just as confident as I am. ::throws hands up in the air:: That’s human beings for you 😀 No, really, this is part of what makes the world interesting — even if it is sometimes frustrating.

  13. sciamannata

    A note about trying to convince people / “convert them to atheism”, and about the question of how someone would be “better off”, which isn’t directly responding to any of the previous messages but in a sense is brought up by several of them. (It is also entirely personal and not purporting to speak for any other atheists out there — which really applies to all I’m saying in this thread unless otherwise specified, but there are cases where I’m more confident that most atheists agree with me.)

    I don’t think I’ve ever actually “debated” on behalf of atheism before, nor ever actually tried to convince anybody that god doesn’t exist, so the following is all hypothetical — but with that limitation, I think it’s still relevant.

    In this discussion I’m talking to two self-described believers who have both thought carefully and deeply about their belief and made specific choices in a reflective, self-aware way. Their ways to believe, and what they believe, seem to be rather different, but both have got there in ways that I consider entirely legitimate and worthy of respect.

    In this situation, I don’t think I have any business trying to convince them to change their beliefs, nor do I have a particular desire to do so, either. I think the operative concept is awareness — they haz it, I’m fine with it. (I may be puzzled, but that’s my problem, not theirs. And in fact it’s not so much a problem as an excuse to find out more 🙂 ) Also, in a case like this I’m not so positive that they would be better off believing differently — or to go back to the way I formulated it elsethread, at the very least I put a heavy and rather critical weight on that “ultimately” in “they would be ultimately better off”.

    However, I think that the vast majority of believers in the world, whether fiery fundamentalists or nice live-and-let-live representatives of one or another religion, believe what they do without having consciously reflected about it in a self-aware way. A trivial “proof” (loose sense) of this is that a large majority of adults subscribe to the religion they were taught as children.

    In this case, I do very strongly tend to think they’d be better off with awareness — and because that’s the way my brain works, I kind of assume that awareness would have a good chance to bring them closer to my own positions, if not necessarily to the same exact views. It may not work that way and they may end up with completely different views — or even with the same views they had before, but they’d still be considerably better off (in my opinion) because now they’d be self-aware about it.

    In this situation I would also see it as legitimate to try and convince them that I’m right and they’re wrong. Not just because I think I’m right :-), but because the attempt itself would inject or stimulate some awareness and/or reflection — thereby improving things even if it didn’t get any further than that. (I don’t know if I’d really do it in practice: as I said, I don’t think I’ve ever actually done it. But I could see myself doing it — unlike the previous case.)

    And there’s another, separate case. I see people who suffer because of what they believe, and who would not suffer if they didn’t — if they believed what I do instead. (Or if they believed something else again, too — but that’s irrelevant in this context, since I’m talking about trying to convince people.) As an atheist and a buddhist, in fact, I think this is the case for a whole lot of people on one level or another — but in practice I’m only talking about the more blatant and self-evident cases here.

    In a situation like this, unlike both of the previous cases, I would feel rather strongly motivated to try and change a person’s beliefs. In practice I would only attempt it in specific, “appropriate” circumstances, because to put it simply I also don’t believe in forcing myself on people — but the desire to intervene would be there, and it could be quite strong. (This is not entirely hypothetical in fact, though in actual practice when I’ve done something like this it’s been more in the nature of trying to weaken a belief that I considered harmful rather than plant a belief that I consider healthier.)

    (And finally, just for completeness and clarity, there are situations where I would never intrude with my own opinions no matter what — for one example, when I see a grieving person taking consolation in something that I believe to be false, because there and then that’s what they need. Come back another time, things may be different.)

    Wow, that was one long note. I’m really enjoying this conversation, among other things because it’s allowing me to articulate my own thoughts in a friendly environment that’s a little less cramped than the inside of my own brain 🙂

  14. Zeborah

    More seriously, what I understood is that you don’t believe God exists but you believe that it is good for you to act as if he did.

    Hmm, with caveats:
    a) It’s technically true that I don’t necessarily believe it but it’s important to me to add that I don’t disbelieve it either.
    b) It’s not just good for me to act as if he does, but also to think as if he does – to pattern my thoughts in the same way that they’d be patterned if I was certain. (Dipping out of that pattern for short times for theological discussions is okay.)

    One aspect of the puzzlement may be purely semantic: to me “believing” isn’t something you (generic) can choose to do or not to do — you can choose to try to believe/disbelieve, and you can most certainly choose to act as if you did or didn’t believe, but you can’t choose to “believe” or “not believe” as such.

    Brains are malleable. Try to believe for long enough, seriously enough, and you may very well convince yourself. 🙂

    But also, there’s a difference between “believing in the existence of” and “believing in = trusting”. Superficially the latter requires the former. But for me it doesn’t. I trust that, whether or not God exists, when I turn to him he’s there for me. And sure enough he is. Doesn’t prove he exists, of course.

    (Still, it’s a pretty neat trick, to be comforting someone when you don’t even exist. Beats rising from the dead, I’d say. 🙂 )

    What is the need to “believe” (scare quotes because of the previous paragraph) in a supernatural being, rather than just believe (no scare quotes) that there is good in the world and that it is good to be good, and skipping the bit about the supernatural being? The second seems more straightforward to me,

    I got home from work today and set some meat to marinade. I could have skipped that and just cooked it. There wasn’t any need to add flavour or tenderness; it’d be about as nutritious without, and it’d certainly be a lot faster and more straightforward.

    Contrariwise, I find life a lot more straightforward without the search for/maintenance of a romantic partner. Others might think that considering what’s “straightforward” in such matters rather misses the point.

    I probably don’t need to believe in God. But doing so makes me happy.

    (More prosaically, if it helps – and while this misses the real point it’s still also true – there are utilities in sticking with one’s native religion as one explores more subtle aspects of morality and suchlike: it’s so much easier to focus on these aspects when you’re already a native speaker of the language. Of course I also see utilities in changing religion if one’s native religion doesn’t suit the way one’s mind works, but this didn’t happen to happen with me.)

    • Irina

      What Zeborah said, basically. Except that I do in fact believe that God exists (for a value of ‘exist’ that I have only the faintest idea of and can’t articulate; not the way a table exists, more like the way love exists); that there is an entity in the universe that I, and lots of other people, happen to call ‘God’. Sometimes I do thought experiments with that notion, and occasionally it seems that the non-existence of God is more plausible than his/her/its existence, but most of the time I prefer to stick with the world-view already proven to work for me, rather than work out a whole new world-view from scratch.

      Anna paraphrased Dawkins in the original Twitter discussion: “they’d be better off believing something true instead”, and there are several other places where the atheists in this discussion said something similar, but how can anyone know which is true: that there is a God, that there is no God, that there are several gods, that the world rests on a giant turtle which rests on four giant elephants? (Well, that last is easy-ish to test at least.) There is literally nothing in the world, at least nothing on a world-view scale, that I could believe in the knowledge that it is true. I’d always be taking someone’s word for it. And in that case, I like the world-view I’ve got, thank you, even if it’s objectively suboptimal.

      (Gah, and there was something else I wanted to say but I’ve lost it and I have to run somewhere now, perhaps I’ll think of it yet)

  15. Zeborah

    I think I have trouble thinking of God by the word “entity” because the notion of an entity seems too small and atomic. More comparable to abstracts like “love”, yes; except that we can create the concepts of love and beauty and justice just by acting as if they exist, or even just by defining them, whereas I’m not sure if this is meaningful with respect to God.

    (Though I’d be more comfortable in saying that we create God by defining him than in saying that we create him by acting as if he exists. The former feels more like treating him as an emergent property of the universe. Plus it harks back to Adam’s naming of the animals so feels more congruent with mythology.)

    Oh, I just thought of something new: sciamannata said that not-believing in God “doesn’t risk running into internal contradiction and getting all tangled up in knots” — but the thing is that getting tangled up in knots is useful: it makes you sit down and really think. Plus the world is complex, so if our internal models of it don’t sometimes get tangled up in knots then they’re probably not mapping terribly well to reality (whatever that is) anyway. 🙂

    • Irina

      You’re probably right about ‘entity’ but I couldn’t think of a better word offhand. Anything would be too small and atomic, and it was a marginally useful term for ‘something-that-is’.

      Oh, and remembered what I was going to say: about sticking with your native religion. I left the Lutheran church in my twenties after being dissatisfied with it since my teens, because it didn’t satisfy my craving for form and structure, ritual, liturgy any more when it abolished a lot of the stuff they’d got to cater for the changed attitudes of its members. If I lived in Germany, where they never went in for all that going-with-the-times nonsense, perhaps I’d still be a Lutheran and go to a Catholic or Orthodox church occasionally as a refreshing outing. That said, the theology has grown on me whereas the structure immediately came naturally. (Yes, I’m a structure freak.)

      One of the things I like best about the Orthodox church is the mixture of high holiness and common sense, that one can be casual and still respectful. Case in point: at the church-cleaning spree on Good Friday last year someone asked about an oily cloth “is that unclean, or just dirty?” — has it been in contact with something holy and should it be handled only by someone qualified and burnt, or can anyone pick it up and throw it in the trash or the washing machine? It’s not a great disaster if someone does pick up an ‘unclean’ cloth, God won’t smite them and there aren’t any worldly sanctions, but we prefer to take that care anyway.

  16. sciamannata

    @zeborah

    a) It’s technically true that I don’t necessarily believe it but it’s important to me to add that I don’t disbelieve it either.

    Yes. I was assuming that in fact, but it is an important distinction that got lost in my formulation.

    b) It’s not just good for me to act as if he does, but also to think as if he does – to pattern my thoughts in the same way that they’d be patterned if I was certain. (Dipping out of that pattern for short times for theological discussions is okay.)

    Also important. (I tend to think of “acting” as including what you do with your brain, but again, my formulation left it out, so thanks for confirming.)

    Brains are malleable. Try to believe for long enough, seriously enough, and you may very well convince yourself. 🙂

    Very true. And in fact pretty fundamental to Buddhist practice, which could be described as being all about changing your mental habits.

    But also, there’s a difference between “believing in the existence of” and “believing in = trusting”.

    Absolutely. And in fact I’ve been involved recently in a discussion about usage of the word “faith” in a Buddhist context which revolved around a very similar issue. (For the record, I was arguing that it is better to avoid translating shradda as “faith” because in the West it has strong implications of belief-in-existence or belief-in-dogma, while the Buddhist meaning seems to be much closer to “trust/confidence”.)

    Superficially the latter requires the former. But for me it doesn’t. I trust that, whether or not God exists, when I turn to him he’s there for me. And sure enough he is. Doesn’t prove he exists, of course.

    This is very interesting and while I’d never thought about it in this form, it does make a lot of sense. (Shiny new thought! Thanks!)

    (Still, it’s a pretty neat trick, to be comforting someone when you don’t even exist. Beats rising from the dead, I’d say. 🙂 )

    I love this 🙂

    […good illustration snipped…] I probably don’t need to believe in God. But doing so makes me happy.

    Fair enough. This I can’t argue with. (Well, not when I’m obviously talking with a thoughtful person, as I said yesterday 🙂 )

    (More prosaically, if it helps – and while this misses the real point it’s still also true – there are utilities in sticking with one’s native religion as one explores more subtle aspects of morality and suchlike: it’s so much easier to focus on these aspects when you’re already a native speaker of the language. Of course I also see utilities in changing religion if one’s native religion doesn’t suit the way one’s mind works, but this didn’t happen to happen with me.)

    It’s not about the central point we were talking about, true, but it’s also relevant. I can see the advantages, and once one has actually reflected about things and come to the conclusion that their native religion does in fact fit their needs, then yes, no point in changing for the sake of changing.

    (But I thought you’d switched denominations? I may be misremembering, or the difference may not be large enough to make a difference to you of course.)

    Ok, off to do a bit of work now, I’ll get back later.

  17. Zeborah

    I went to an Anglican church until I was 5 years old; Presbyterian since then. I have no conscious memory of the Anglican church beyond the shape/warm-darkness of a space which I think might have been the lounge and Sunday School area; but recently I’ve begun to wonder whether my own love of liturgy (not very well satisfied by Presbyterianism) might have been formed in services there.

  18. sciamannata

    …just to put this down before actually I get working and forget about it:

    This discussion, and especially the more recent part of it (including rather importantly the last couple of comments from both Zeborah and Irina which I haven’t responded to yet) is finally allowing me to understand how (“in what way” as well as “how on Earth”) someone can be both a thoughtful person and a Christian. Which so far I had taken on faith (so to speak, ta-dah!) because I had met several, but I did not understand. (As I said, I don’t think I’ve ever actually debated the side of atheism, or not since I left the Church many years ago anyway.)

    So, many thanks again.

    …and now I really do some “real” work. Back later!

  19. sciamannata

    @Irina:

    I agree that it is impossible to know anything with absolute certainty, but there are different levels of probability and plausibility. In other words, there are truths that nobody sane would deny (“if I let go of this weight it will fall to the ground”) — and while physicists might in fact tell you that actually there is an infinitesimal chance that it won’t (because of quantum I think), in practice gravity can safely be called “true”. Other things are less certain, all the way down a spectrum of probability.

    When it comes specifically to the existence of a God that intervenes in the physical world and in human history, I agree with Dawkins that the evidence is entirely against it, so that it’s legitmate to discount the possibility of God’s existence in practice. (For an “idle” God who doesn’t intervene, there is no way to test it — the argument there is that it is an “unnecessary hypothesis”.)

    In other words, and to use a common enough formulation (which applies to both types of “God”), the world looks exactly the way it would look if there was no God; therefore we can assume that there is no God. It is not absolute certainty, but it comes as close as it gets on a practical level.

    That was about the general issue of truth. In the bit about “better off believing something true” that you quoted, however, I was actually using a much more limited definition of “true”, basically meaning “what I believe with some confidence to be true”. Because that’s the only kind of “truth” that I can act on.

    (Sorry for not coming back sooner, but I’m finding myself rather busy and this is stuff that needs thought rather than quick reactions! I still have a couple of posts I want to respond to, but it might take a while.)

  20. sciamannata

    Argh, apologies. I had actually misremembered the context of “better off believing what is true instead”, and it jumped out at me after posting the last comment. Since I can’t edit the comment, I just have to ask you to ignore what I said in the last two paragraphs. (I thought it was about the desire to convince people of the error of their ways, which I talked about in a previous comment).

    In the original context, the sentence does in fact refer to the general issue of truth and specifically how certain we can be that God doesn’t exist.

    • Irina

      And I was about to say “but I see no reason for me to believe what you believe to be true!” 🙂

      In my experience the evidence isn’t entirely against the existence of God, but any evidence I can offer is anecdotal (and mostly about other people who I’d have to ask whether they mind, and some of them are dead so I can’t ask). I also fear that if I offered some anecdotal evidence anyway, it would rapidly devolve into a kind of contest in which the atheists would carefully and competently dissect every story, and I would get more and more apologetic and eventually go turtle and close comments, so I won’t do that. (This is a Usenet reaction, and I know this has proved itself as a safe place, so I’m probably overreacting; but still.)

    • Irina

      I made a test user to experiment with, because I thought registering would give you (you-general) the power to edit your own comments, but unfortunately you’d have to be a full administrator for that. Even the “Editor” status, next highest, gives you only the power to edit posts.

  21. Zeborah

    In other words, and to use a common enough formulation (which applies to both types of “God”), the world looks exactly the way it would look if there was no God; therefore we can assume that there is no God.

    I’d say:
    a) the world looks to you the way [you assume] it’d look if there was no God; to me it looks very different. …I find that arguments for atheism have a tendency to assume that there’s One True Way of seeing reality; generally the arguer will admit that they haven’t discovered the full truth yet themselves (though some act as if they’ve forgotten this) but even so I find the assumption lacking, because I hold that reality is complex enough to encompass many viewpoints and many truths.

    b) Besides all which, although we can assume there’s no God, I don’t see that there’s any requirement to do so.

  22. sciamannata

    I’d be more comfortable in saying that we create God by defining him than in saying that we create him by acting as if he exists. The former feels more like treating him as an emergent property of the universe.

    Now, this is a kind of god I would be quite comfortable with. Well — except that I wouldn’t call it “god”. If I understand the concept of pantheism correctly, this fits within pantheism, which I have a lot of sympathy for (and I would have more sympathy for if it dropped the word “god”).

    The idea of the universe (or people, or conscious beings which may include more than just people) “creating” god fits a lot better with my worldview than the reverse; but I think you’re saying that this is precisely the aspect of this comparison that you don’t like? I’m not sure I’ve understood correctly.

  23. sciamannata

    sciamannata said that not-believing in God “doesn’t risk running into internal contradiction and getting all tangled up in knots” — but the thing is that getting tangled up in knots is useful: it makes you sit down and really think.

    Good point! Though I think it only works that way if sitting down and thinking is your inclination to start with.

    (If that was to be the only justification for belief, however, it would be a bit weak — largely because of the next quote 🙂 And I realize that this is not what you’re saying!)

    Plus the world is complex, so if our internal models of it don’t sometimes get tangled up in knots then they’re probably not mapping terribly well to reality (whatever that is) anyway. 🙂

    Absolutely. But that’s not a good excuse for adding unnecessary knots 🙂 There are plenty enough as it is!

  24. Zeborah

    We can’t create an entity that we call God; but I think we can create the concept of God that maps more-or-less onto some property of the universe. (Or some property of what’s beyond the universe which allows the universe to exist and/or work in the way it does.) Like creating the concept of “blue” which maps more-or-less to some part of the electromagnetic spectrum; or creating the concept of “justice” which maps onto a range of behaviours and ideals – the very discussion of which influences our definition of the word. We don’t create the electromagnetic spectrum but by naming its parts we create the colours. Likewise the property/ies that we call “God” exist regardless of us, but by naming and talking about him as if he were a person… well, it skews our understanding of him. But not naming him or talking about him wouldn’t be much improvement, so we see through a glass darkly.

  25. sciamannata

    Back! I’ve been very scatter-brained lately. And also busy. I hope things will be a bit more settled now.

    I also fear that if I offered some anecdotal evidence anyway, it would rapidly devolve into a kind of contest in which the atheists would carefully and competently dissect every story […]

    I’m afraid you’re right on this point. To an extent I think it’s inevitable: partly because anecdote cannot really be taken as proof of anything (except itself), and partly because the atheist-vs-believer debate is so much part of current culture (and Internet culture even more so) that any discussion of this issue is likely to fall into that kind of format more or less inadvertently — by habit.

    Now, personally I would try not to do that; partly because it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. But I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t lapse — and I certainly can’t say anything for any other atheists who may be passing by. So if you feel that this would be unpleasant (and I wouldn’t blame you!), your decision is probably the wise one.

    Speaking generally (but still entirely for myself), I do not usually doubt a person’s internal experience. That would be absurd. But I will dispute their interpretation of it if it seems wrong to me.

    If the experience in question is not internal but external, actually much of the time it will be the same: I’m more likely to dispute the interpretation than the experience itself. However, once we’re outside someone’s head, there may more space for doubting the experience itself.

    • Irina

      So if you feel that this would be unpleasant (and I wouldn’t blame you!), your decision is probably the wise one.

      “Unpleasant” doesn’t begin to describe it. I have poor debating skills, which is part of why I left rasfc– He Who Must Not Be Named Because He Probably Ego-googles had me under the table in one blow every time, so I stopped feeling safe enough to say anything at all. This place here is my safe place and I want to keep it that way. If I enter the kind of debate that needs skills on my home ground, it’s likely that I’ll stop feeling safe even here.

      That doesn’t mean you (all of you) shouldn’t feel free to debate with each other! I’m glad I’ve been able to make it safe for others, too.

  26. sciamannata

    a) the world looks to you the way [you assume] it’d look if there was no God; to me it looks very different.

    Well, that is what I would expect from a believer — otherwise why would they believe? But I don’t know what this difference is.

    I don’t know if I can put it in a way that doesn’t sound like a challenge, because it isn’t (I’m not trying to convert or deconvert anybody here), but I am particularly curious about what you see as the difference because you already say that you don’t “precisely” believe in God. So can you give me an example (or a few) of what (in your view) would look different in the world if God didn’t exist? (If you like I’ll promise that I won’t reply to it in any way other than “ok”.) (Obviously you don’t have to answer — I’m just quite curious, but that doesn’t mean anybody has to indulge me…)

    I find that arguments for atheism have a tendency to assume that there’s One True Way of seeing reality; generally the arguer will admit that they haven’t discovered the full truth yet themselves (though some act as if they’ve forgotten this) but even so I find the assumption lacking, because I hold that reality is complex enough to encompass many viewpoints and many truths.

    “Many viewpoints” clearly exist, and I would say that they are all legitimate by definition. Are they all true? Well… this goes back to “many truths” of course.

    I think “many truths” can hold for some things, but not for all. I think when it comes to the crunch, a thing either exists or it doesn’t — whether it’s God, a table, the Higgs boson or human compassion. I can hold two contradictory ideas in my head (in fact I do it quite often), and it can be a very useful way to approach a problem or a situation; and maybe in some cases it really isn’t the case that only one of them is actually true. But in most cases I think it’s only a temporary condition. At some point you open the box and the cat is either alive or dead.

    (Assuming you’re allowed to open the box that is. Sometimes you aren’t.)

    b) Besides all which, although we can assume there’s no God, I don’t see that there’s any requirement to do so.

    I think it’s only a requirement if you want to become a member of the International Atheist Conspiracy 🙂 (You do get a cool t-shirt though!)

  27. sciamannata

    Oh bother. Sorry for not closing the italics tag in the previous post. At least it doesn’t seem to propagate to all following posts…

    • Irina

      @sciamannata: you didn’t actually fail to close your tag; you opened a new one after it. I’ve fixed it. I think it doesn’t propagate because every comment is a separate self-contained entry in the database, but somehow I don’t feel like investigating that low-level.

  28. sciamannata

    @Zeborah: Thanks for clarifying what you meant by “creating God”. I had misunderstood.